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Thursday, April 3, 2014

No. 3 Seeds Shown Exit in Third Round of ITF Grade 1 International Spring Championships

©Colette Lewis 2014--
Carson, California--

The sigh of relief heard coming from the StubHub Center in Carson Thursday was the result of players, parents, coaches and officials finally getting a reprieve after three days of 20 mph winds. With almost no breeze and temperatures in the mid 60s, struggles in form couldn't be blamed on the conditions, and several underdogs took advantage.

Aron Hiltzik did not appear comfortable to start his match with No. 3 seed Alex Rybakov, and in no time he had dropped the first set without winning a game. But the 17-year-old from Illinois stuck to his game plan, stayed positive, and came through with a 0-6, 6-4, 6-2 victory.

Hiltzik saw a 4-2 second set lead get away from him, but broke Rybakov at love at 4-4 and served out the set. In the third set, serving at 2-2, Rybakov had a 40-15 lead in the game, but made two unforced errors, double faulted and eventually was broken on Hiltzik's backhand volley winner.

When Hiltzik took a 30-0 lead in the next game, Rybakov, a 17-year-old left-hander, received a code violation warning for racquet abuse. After losing the next point Rybakov said, to no one in particular, "I'm about to lose it."  And he was correct in that assessment, although he did not have any further emotional outbursts.  Hiltzik closed the game with an ace, and when he broke Rybakov in the next game, mostly as a result of Rybakov's  errors, to take a 5-2 lead, he could see the value of his tactics.

"The whole game plan was to play my game by dictating to his backhand and staying on top of the baseline," said University of Illinois recruit Hiltzik, who targeted Rybakov's one-handed backhand. "He was dictating everywhere, and then I started to stand closer to the baseline and really trust my shots."

In beating Rybakov, who is No. 43 in the ITF junior rankings, and in reaching the quarterfinals of his second consecutive Grade 1, Hiltzik has proven himself competitive at that level despite limited international play.

"It means a lot," Hiltzik said of his success this week. "I haven't been playing many of these ITFs, but it shows I'm at the top with these guys, and I can really improve my game and take it to the next level, and the pros, which I hope to do."

While Rybakov was going out to the unseeded Hiltzik of Court 4, No. 3 girls seed Johnnise Renaud was also beaten, with unseeded Kelly Chen posting a 6-4, 6-4 victory.  Chen, who will be 15 next month, was grateful for the calm conditions when facing Renaud.

"It would have been more tricky," said Chen, who lives in nearby Cerritos, California and is coached by former NCAA champion and WTA Top 30 player Debbie Graham. "I probably would have had a hard time. She has that lefty serve, and it would have been more difficult for me. But I think I handled the serve pretty well today."

Chen said balancing her offensive and defensive skills was necessary to get what she called her best win on the ITF circuit.

"I was trying to get everything back deep, yet try to stay aggressive at the same time," said Chen, who also reached the quarterfinals at the Grade 1 in Costa Rica at the beginning of the year. "I had to get first serves in, and get my returns in, because her serve was pretty good. She's a good player."

Chen will play No. 8 seed Kaitlyn McCarthy, who breezed past No. 11 seed Katie Swan of Great Britain 6-2, 6-1.

CiCi Bellis, the No. 5 seed, will play unseeded Christina Makarova in the other quarterfinal in the girls top half.  Makarova, a semifinalist in 2013, defeated Mary Haffey 6-0, 7-6(4), and Bellis, who has lost only seven games in three matches, beat lucky loser Bianca Moldovan 6-3, 6-1.

No. 12 Jessica Ho eliminated No. 7 seed Michaela Gordon 6-3, 7-6(2), and will face No. 4 seed Usue Arconada, who got by wild card Francesca Di Lorenzo 6-1, 7-5.

No. 2 seed Sofia Kenin needed three sets to advance for the third match in a row, defeating Claire Liu, last week's champion at the Grade 4 Claremont, 6-2, 2-6, 6-4. Kenin's opponent in the quarterfinals is No. 9 seed Raveena Kingsley, who outslugged Australia's Naiktha Bains, the No. 6 seed, 6-4, 6-4.

Trailing 3-1 in the second set, Kingsley, a 15-year-old from Maryland, saved a break point that would have given Bains a 4-1 lead.  With Bains serving at 4-3, she fell behind 0-40, but brought it back to deuce, only to make two errors to given Kingsley the game. Kingsley had no difficulty with the pace Bains was generating and often it was Bains who made the error at the end of a long rally.  After Kingsley held for 5-4, Bains' backhand let her down, with two errors off that side giving Kingsley a match point. Bains missed her first serve, and Kingsley thumped a backhand return that Bains couldn't direct back in the court.

"I think I played pretty decent this match," said Kingsley, who made the semifinals of a Grade 1 in the Philippines last month. "I knew that if I broke her, I would be able to hold my serve."

Kingsley has been playing in India and Southeast Asia this year, and with success there has been able to break into the ITF Junior Top 100.

"It certainly gave me a lot more experience," Kingsley said. "I learned a lot going there. I picked up a lot of good wins over there, so my confidence level was high coming here."

Kingsley is one of four Junior Tennis Champions Center players in the quarterfinals, joining Arconada, Hiltzik and top seed Francis Tiafoe, who beat William Blumberg 6-1 6-2.  Tiafoe will play No. 8 seed Sameer Kumar, who eliminated qualifier Mark Epshteyn-Losev 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.

No. 4 seed Henrik Wiersholm, a 6-2, 6-1 winner of wild card McClain Kessler, will face No. 9 seed Daniel Kerznerman, who defeated Jordi Arconada 7-6(4), 6-1.

Hiltzik's opponent in the quarterfinals is No. 7 seed Taylor Fritz, who defeated unseeded William Bushamuka of the Congo 6-0, 6-4.  The only international player remaining in either singles draw is No. 2 seed Naoki Nakagawa of Japan, who beat unseeded Emil Reinberg 6-3, 6-4.  Nakagawa meets unseeded Tommy Paul in the quarterfinals, after Paul overcame wild card Liam Caruana 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-0.

Friday's semifinals are set in the 16s division.  In the top half of the boys draw, No. 14 seed Jacob Brumm will meet No. 11 seed Patrick Kypson. Brumm defeated unseeded Brandon Holt, Tracy Austin's son, 7-5, 6-2, while Kypson beat qualifier Alexandre Rotsaert 6-1, 6-1.  In the bottom half, No. 9 seed John McNally faces No. 7 seed Alex Phillips.  McNally advanced when No. 4 seed Sam Riffice retired with a back injury after losing the first set 6-3.  Phillips overwhelmed No. 2 seed Zeke Clark 6-0, 6-1.

In the girls 16s semifinals, No. 13 seed Kalani Soli will play No. 12 seed Samantha Martinelli and No. 3 seed Ryan Peus will face No. 16 seed Alaina Miller.  Soli beat unseeded Annette Goulak 6-4, 7-6(3) and Martinelli defeated No. 4 seed Kayla Day 6-3, 6-4.  Peus eased past wild card Taylor Johnson 7-6(5), 7-6(5) and Miller overcame unseeded Morgan Coppoc 6-4, 4-6, 6-2.

For complete results, including those in doubles, which are down to the semifinals, see the tournament website.